Earth's magnetic fields may be changing, but it won't happen overnight

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE, Calif. -- Environmental scientists said there's a good chance the Earth's magnetic field is in the process of flipping, which could mean compasses that point to the north will switch to the south.

But they also add that there isn't much for humanity to fear.

Earth tends to reverse its magnetic north and south every 450,000 years, according to Erik Ivins, a senior research scientist at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge.

Ivins said the last time it happened was more than 750,000 years ago, so we are definitely due for a switch.

The magnetic field is a life-saving shield against radiation from the sun and during a shift, some fear the field will weaken in certain spots, possibly spurring more cases of cancer. Ivins said some satellites are already encountering problems from an increase in solar radiation.

One expected perk of a magnetic flip: the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, may drift south, projecting its aerial colors over Southern California.

But don't expect any magnetic field shift to happen overnight. Ivins said the process takes anywhere from 100 years to several thousand years.
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